Nearly 350 staff at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) have taken part in a ground-breaking study which has found that people who have had COVID-19 may have some immunity from the virus for five months – but could still pass it on to others.
The SIREN research study, led by Public Health England, saw 349 ESNEFT staff, together with thousands of other healthcare workers from across the country, take part in regular antibody testing and nasal swabbing starting in the second half of 2020.
The initial results, published today, show that only 44 potential reinfections were recorded among 6,614 participants who showed evidence of a previous infection. This indicates that antibodies from a past infection provide 83% protection against catching COVID-19 again for at least five months.
However, early evidence also suggests a small number of people with antibodies may still carry the virus in their nose and throat, and therefore could transmit it to others.
Consultant microbiologist Luke Bedford, ESNEFT’s principal investigator for the study, said: “We are really pleased that we have been able to play such a key role in this important study, and would like to thank all of our colleagues who took part, as well as the research teams and the staff who have carried out the testing.
“Although the early findings show that a previous infection may lead to some immunity, we are still unclear as to how long that protection could last. At the same time, early evidence suggests that people with antibodies who have been ill with COVID-19 can still carry high levels of the virus, which means they could pass it onto others.
“It is therefore vital that everyone continues to do as much as they can to prevent the virus from spreading further, even if they have previously had COVID-19. That means staying at home, washing your hands regularly, wearing face coverings and making space from others.”
Professor Susan Hopkins, senior medical advisor at Public Health England and the SIREN study lead said: “We are immensely grateful to our colleagues in the NHS for giving up their time to volunteer, and whose continued participation at a time of great stress is making this research possible.
“This study has given us the clearest picture to date of the nature of antibody protection against COVID-19, but it is critical people do not misunderstand these early findings.
“We now know that most of those who have had the virus and developed antibodies are protected from reinfection, but this is not total and we do not yet know how long that protection lasts. Crucially, we believe people may still be able to pass the virus on.
“Now more than ever it is vital we all stay at home to protect our health service and save lives.”
The study follows participants for 12 months so that researchers can continue to explore how immunity may last, while also offering a unique opportunity to study the effect of the roll out of the COVID-19 vaccination.Back to top